The Catholic bishops of New Jersey are making it clear to their flocks what the Church's teaching is on marriage in hopes of enabling them to promote and support marriage and families.
In a letter that the bishops asked priests to read or distribute this past weekend, the ministers addressed the Catholic Church's teaching on marriage, explained why the Church cares about the state's definition of marriage, and tackled common questions presented by those in support of gay marriage.
"As Catholics, we must not stand by in silence in the face of the many challenges that threaten marriage and, in turn, children and the public good. We must not shirk from our responsibility," the bishops asserted.
"We must protect and promote marriage. We must not abandon the teaching of the Catholic Church on marriage and the complementarity of the sexes – a truth that is evident to right reason and recognized as such by the major cultures of the world," they added.
The bishops' letter comes as the state of New Jersey anticipates a possible legislative vote to legalize same-sex marriage before Republican Gov.-elect Chris Christie takes office Jan. 19.
Though Christie, a practicing Catholic, said he would veto the same-sex marriage bill, outgoing Gov. Jon Corzine, a socially liberal Democrat, has said he would sign it.
"The governor is for a marriage equality bill and he believes that it is the right time for it and he would sign if it came across his desk," Corzine's press secretary, Robert Corrales, told the pro-gay EDGE news network.
According to a Quinnipiac University poll released this past Wednesday, New Jersey voters currently oppose legalizing gay marriage by a 49 to 46 margin. Despite the news, the Catholic Church in New Jersey isn't taking any chances and is rallying Catholic faithful to "prayerfully reflect" on the words of Jesus in this time of "strange teaching and conflict over the meaning of marriage."
The Church is also reminding its members that the debate about same sex marriage is not about benefits and rights, as some would have them believe.
"The Civil Union Act settled that issue once and for all," the bishops noted in their letter.
"In New Jersey, same sex couples have every benefit and right without exception that the State of New Jersey grants to heterosexual married couples," they added.
Instead, the bishops insisted, the same sex marriage initiative is actually an attempt to change the historic structure of marriage as a union only of a man and a woman.
"Same sex civil unions may represent a new and a different type of institution, one in which government grants to same sex couples benefits and protections, but same sex unions are not marriage," they affirmed.
With Corzine still in office for then weeks, both sides are intensifying efforts to advertise, lobby, and press supporters to contact legislators, through the end of the lame-duck session that starts later this month.
National organizations are also offering support to state-based groups on both sides.